Once upon a time, narrowboats plied the UK waterways, carrying freight. If you see a narrowboat nowadays, it’s more likely to carry holiday-makers than gravel , coal or grain. Instead of a large cargo space and a cramped living space for the Boater and his family, there’ll be 2 or even 4 berths, a cooker, living space, a toilet and maybe even a shower or washing machine. If you peep in through the windows after dark, the occupants will most likely be watching TV. Earlier they’d be on the deck, enjoying the sunshine, glass in hand. How things have changed!
Mikron Theatre Company (mikron.org.uk)are now in their 5th year touring the UK waterways, on their historic narrowboat ‘Tysley’, presenting shows about the industrial history of the UK. In 1983/84 and again in 1986 the show ‘Still Carrying’ recounted history of Tysley itself and the lives of the people who worked canal boats in the past. The shows are excellent and I recommend you see one if you can.
In The NL, water transport is still very important and it makes sense when you consider that 18% of the country’s area is water – and most of the wet bits are connected to other wet bits. In the past it was Schutsjers doing the transport of everything from potatoes, peat, grain, sand and, as they plain-speakingly say here -shit.
As a leisure boater, you have to keep a sharp look-out for commercial traffic. Not only does it have right of way (or stand-on) but also the huge barges can’t see tiny boats and can’t stop quickly anyway. Boater beware!
They even move houses (OK, Bungalow Boats) on the water.
Unlike the UK, much of the internal distribution of goods which have come from abroad, is done on the inland waterways. Here’s a ‘real working port’ close to Leeuwarden.
And on the opposite side of the water there’s a recycling factory which sends it’s partly-digested goods to the next processing place by water, of course.
In the old days of course, the freight transport boats were powered by wind in their sails. They were pulled from the port to the open water by people with yokes around their necks. Hard work! And usually done by women. There are many statues commemorating this round and about.
But transport of freight by water is still thriving internationally, of course. Last night, we were talking to some people from Fairfield Chemical Carriers, a US company with a fleet of more than 30 vessels, capacity 20 and 25 megatonnes. It’s companies like this which bring you your fruit juice, beer, wine, cooking oil and non-hazardous chemicals from where they’re produced to wherever you live. Transport by sea is safe and cheap and the conditions aboard freight ships are much more comfortable than aboard the narrowboats or Schutsjers in the past.
And that’s why you can enjoy your glass of wine once the sun’s over the yard arm. Cheers!